A long held dream

January and February are miserable months in England; all the excitement is over, all the rushing around should be done and I hate the cold, damp, grey days.

So for a long time I have always hoped to spend at least a month somewhere warm, with sun, swimming and of course stitching and this year, for the first time we managed it and had a great month in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands (the BVIs)
However I have always stressed the importance of planning well in advance for any trip but for a whole month it is even more important.
Unfortunately planning seemed to go array this time, both my and my daughter’s birthdays to celebrate in December, Christmas and New Year and to finish off a rather nasty chesty cold that laid me low and lingered well into the holiday
So, while it is still fresh in my mind I have made this list of needlepoint tools that I took and found really helpful that I managed to throw into my suitcase.
First of all my design(s) to work on;  originally I planned to take the project destined for our trip to Tuscany later in May however the painted canvas got lost in transit from the States and didn’t arrive in time.   As it was to be a companion piece to that which we did last year selection of threads was already done so I was doubly disappointed that project was out of the question.

However with only a few days to decide on a piece that I could take I finished up with LOVE.   I managed to start a small area to select threads and took more quantities that I thought were needed – wrong again as I ran out of the white stranded cotton and had to finish the last letter back at home!   Here is the finished design that will be available early April.   
While stitching it I realised that it would be a lovely design with other names using letters from another of our charts, let us know if you would like a set.     4 letter names as ANNA, ANNE, JANE &, GINA and many others would work well and of course it could be worked in different colours.

Even if you have selected a complete kit from a designer known to you, it is well worth while opening the pack up, checking on the threads against the contents page, perhaps even changing a shade to suit you better, noting what size frame you will need (don’t forget the drawing pins to fix the canvas) and making sure there are enough needles!
I often take a small piece for waiting around; extra spec cases, the Kaleidoscope design in particular using up small quantities of threads is always a good choice for either presents or different schemes for sun-glasses, reading glasses and stronger ones for stitching.
Here I have the sun glass case, worked in brightly coloured cottons …………………….
Heavy things first:
Lowery Silver grey work stand with side clamp; 
I know this is quite heavy but couldn’t think of being without it even for my short weeks in Italy each year.  My daughter lives in France and as I travel with carry-on only have a second frame there – cheaper to buy one frame than pay for luggage to be checked in each time
PureLite, Three in one Lamp and magnification– a new addition to my battery of tools that I find really helpful.  It has magnification and can operate on either electricity or with batteries.    Accessories include allow for it to be a floor, table or clip on lamp.
The floor base is heavy for travel so I opt for either the table base or the clip on lamp.   The 4 C size batteries (should you plan to use it without electricity) are not included so be sure to pack some
The magnification is also helpful
Our apartment in Tortola had a charming balcony so when the dusk came – quite early in that part of the world – I was able to continue to enjoy my stitching.
iPad useful for keeping a record of stitches, ply and quantities besides keeping in touch with the outside world and using as an e-reader.   In addition there are some useful stitch apt to give extra ideas.  Well worth checking with your destination that Wi-Fi is widely available and if there are any charges.
One decision I regretted was my selection of books on the iPad; they were all interesting but very much of the same type.  For my next trip I hope to make more of a varied selection and hope to start doing that in good time.  
 (I managed with the iPad and emails rather than expensive calls on my mobile and not easy with the 5 hour time change.
 Electric tooth brush
And most important the various chargers for each piece of equipment.
AS I was also designing I took a selection of graph paper so I was able to chart stitches and design as they were worked – and didn’t have to do them on my return!
As we plan to return next year I plan to research something that will play tapes and talking books which I love.    It would appear that American tapes don’t work on English machines but I must do some more research.
Needles of all sizes, small embroidery scissors; the small curved scissors are officially sufficiently small to be allowed on airplanes however do pack a second pair in your check in luggage as in some overseas airports they have been known to confiscate them – little point to argue!
Correct size frame, I tend to take narrow artist stretcher bars for easy of transport and, for larger pieces I swop them over to wider, stronger bars when I get home.   Again don’t forget the drawing pins (I believe they are called thumb tacks in the US
So a spot of background to Tortola which we loved so much that we already plan to return early next year.
Tortola is the capital island of the British Virgin Island, part of a stunning variety of more than 60 island; beautiful islands to visit by frequent ferries or private charter.   The history of these islands goes way back beyond Christopher Columbus who encountered this very special corner of the Caribbean however before that Amerindian tribes had made their way up the island chain by canoe from Venezuela several centuries earlier but Columbus found no trace of them, perhaps they had moved on.

The British Annexed in 1672 when they established cotton and sugar plantations and soon were exporting rum and molasses to England.  In 1834 when slavery was abolished in the British West Indies (these plantations relied to a great extent on the slaves); this way of life declined.
From the mid-19th century the former slaves were the only inhabitants until the 1960/70s when the islands started to become a popular yacht centre.    Today tourism is the mainstay of the economy along with a growing international finance industry.
So why did we chose Tortola for our month’s adventure?  First friends some years ago had loved it and talking with many others, some of whom had only spent hours on the island from their cruise ship all were so enthusiastic as being the highlight of their holiday.
Another, very personal reason for choosing the island was that Robert had an old university friend who had gone out there with his wife and three young children in 1965 to become the island’s first surgeon.   I believe there were approximately only 50 expats living on the island then.  His salary was also interesting, besides a cash amount there was a horse to get around to his patients (the roads were almost non-existent – and are still ‘challenging’.    With many islands to visit patients and not a confident horse rider he quickly changed the horse for a boat – in fact the same boat that he had sailed his family the last part of the journey from England to Tortola!

We had very firm ideas of not wishing to stay in a hotel, the thought of 3 large meals a day would have been too much of a temptation so it was to the self-catering section we devoted our search a d came up with a delightful Airbnb.   A self-contained apartment, part of a charming house set in beautiful gardens in the hills.   This apartment, up in the hills, was considerably cooler than down on the beaches but posed the problem of driving the simply terrifying roads – steep bends, unmade surfaces, pot holes and more hazards – we decided to drive only in daylight and alcohol free!  Actually lunch out and dinner on our own balcony suited us well.
The West end of the island, where we were, was particularly attractive; a series of beautiful beaches with calm seas divided by steep headlands dividing them.    One could find some beaches with no other person but on ‘cruise ship days’ certain beaches had to be avoided as they were crowded with the day visitors.
We met other friendly people, a retired nurse who had trained way back with one of my English stitching friends.  She has lived there since 72 and was able to take us to the Sunday Church Service at a charming Episcopalian Church in one of the bays;  it is many years since we have seen such a well-dressed congregation;  only about 1/3 European living there but without exception everyone was in their best outfits – hats for the ladies and NO trousers, suits and jackets for the men and each child had their best ‘party outfit’    The Service was longer than we would expect in our church in London but with hearty singing, an interesting Sermon, the introduction of new visitors (including us who got a small memento) and the acknowledgement of the children of the Confirmation class it passed most agreeably.
The other event that, for us, was a first was a Sports Bar where we watched the Rugby, Ireland versus in the morning and after lunch and a certain amount of beer, England versus     in the afternoon.   With 3 large television screens the turnout was tremendous and the encouraging cheering most encouraging (England won their match!)
As usual, I always have my eyes open for inspiration for new designs, no way disappointed I met with a charming lady, Jill Tattersall (the former wife of the surgeon who is still there) who paints the most charming scenes of life on the island – she brings a blend of architecture and activities she sketched on her arrival giving a accurate glimpse o who things were when they first arrived.

I do hope, with her approval to paint some of the scenes as needlepoint projects;  at present I am trying to capture the flavour of her paintings together with the restrictions of a needlepoint piece.  Please watch this space as we progress
Next year, as I have mentioned, we plan to return however on the edge of one of the bays, enabling us to walk out to local restaurants and perhaps take the odd taxi to some of the Full Moon parties particularly the one in Trellis Bay where the artist Aragon Dick-Read is renowned for his famous fireball sculptures.   I also hope to encourage my son and his wife, who are professional sailors to join us for a while so we can explore some of the other islands.


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